The art of the great cover version lies in making the song your own. That could mean a fairly straight or faithful rendition, which might work if your vibe is close in spirit to the original artist's. But it's usually more intriguing to hear radical reinterpretations of familiar songs. Or alternatively, for obscure original material to receive some populist treatment. This episode has a look specifically at female takes on traditionally male songs.
S Etienne's 'Only love can break your heart' and The Slits' version of the Motown standard 'I heard it through the grapevine' are both triumphs of migrating a strong original into a different genre. Broadly that's a dub universe on both occasions, but one is from the dub dance days of the early '90s and the other from the jerky post-punk era of the late '70s. Both stand up exceptionally well, with the added slant while The Slits' radical feminism renders them more relevant to these diverse times. For another great early Slits' song, Episode 1 features their classic 'Typical Girls'. 'Sylvie' by St Etienne appears on the Sisters and Brothers episode.
A couple of artists noted for over-indexing on testosterone and taking a strong masculine line are The Stones and Black Sabbath. But in the hands of The Sundays ('Wild Horses') and Sweden's Cardigans ('Ironman') what once was cock rock becomes anything but: floaty, ethereal, dream-pop renditions of the old male standards, and all the better for it. Frente ('Bizarre Love Triangle') and Yo La Tengo ('Needle of Death') also bring the gentler hand of a feminine sensibility to bear, but over a less gendered blueprint.
It's harder to find beefed-up versions of male originals, of course - although to hear a rather cartoony scream of a song have a listen to Babes in Toyland 'All by Myself', not featured here. On the other hand The Dum Dum Girls produce a wonderfully powerful rendition of The Smiths' classic 'There is a light that never goes out' without losing sight of the empathy in the original.
One track you must hear: Marcy Mays of the band Scrawl was bought in by Greg Dulli to sing 'My Curse' for his group The Afghan Whigs. It was a brave decision, but she produces a jaw-dropping performance of a difficult but visceral song. Tracklist:-
Only love can break your heart, St Etienne (orig: Neil Young)
Black Steel, Tricky (orig: Public Enemy)
I heard it through the grapevine, The Slits (orig: Marvin Gaye)
My Curse, Afghan Whigs
Ironman, The Cardigans (orig: Black Sabbath)
There is a light that never goes out, Dum Dum Girls (orig: The Smiths)
Mr Blue Sky, The Delgados (orig: ELO)
Bizarre Love Triangle, Frente (orig: New Order)
Needle of Death, Yo La Tengo (orig: Bert Jansch)
Hanging on the telephone, Blondie (orig: The Nerves)
Dear Prudence, Siouxsie and the Banshees (orig: The Beatles)
Wild Horses, The Sundays (orig: The Rolling Stones)